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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Massacre leader’s name is removed from Yellowstone mountain

An undated photo provided by Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service shows First Peoples Mountain in Yellowstone National Park, center. Formerly known as Mount Doane, the 10,551-foot peak has been renamed First Peoples Mountain in an acknowledgment of the park’s historical connections with Indigenous people, the National Park Service said.

By April Rubin

A mountain in Yellowstone National Park, named for an Army officer who led a massacre in which at least 173 Native Americans were slaughtered, has been renamed in honor of America’s Indigenous people, the National Park Service said.

The National Park Service said last week that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names had voted unanimously to rename Mount Doane, a 10,551-foot peak in the southeastern part of Yellowstone. It will now be known as First Peoples Mountain, the Park Service said in a statement.

The mountain had honored Gustavus Doane, an Army officer and explorer who, in response to the alleged murder of a white fur trader, helped lead an attack in 1870 that became known as the Marias Massacre. He boasted about the attack in his accounts of the exploration of the land that would become Yellowstone National Park two years later.

The change was announced as the Interior Department under Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet member, is taking steps to strip oppressive and offensive names from geographic features across the national park system.

This year, the department announced that it would remove the racist term “squaw” from 660 geographic sites, including mountains, rivers and lakes. The Park Service was ordered to take similar steps. A task force was created to rename landmarks.

In January, the Interior Department said it was seeking nominations for a committee whose members would identify geographic features that should be renamed “as part of a broad effort to review and replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features.”

In 2016, the Park Service renamed North America’s highest peak — Mount McKinley in Alaska — as Mount Denali. That name, meaning “the great one” or “the high one” in the Alaska Native language Koyukon, pays tribute to the state’s Indigenous population. President William McKinley, for whom the mountain was christened in 1896, had little connection to the state, the Park Service said.

First Peoples Mountain was renamed based on input from the 27 tribes in Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota that have historical connections to Yellowstone. Indigenous people lived for at least 11,000 years on the land that would become Yellowstone. They were pushed out by the government when the park was established in 1872, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

“This name change is long overdue,” Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation told The Associated Press in a statement. “We all agreed on ‘First Peoples Mountain’ as an appropriate name to honor the victims of such inhumane acts of genocide, and to also remind people of the 10,000-year-plus connection tribal peoples have to this sacred place now called Yellowstone.”

Since the change was announced, William Snell, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, said the organization had received inquiries from tribes in California about replicating the process as a way of rectifying other injustices.

“It’s a demonstration of working closely with American Indians and making sure that wrongs are righted and history is rewritten and corrected,” he said.

In its statement, the Park service said the renaming of First Peoples Mountain is not likely to be the last of its kind.

“Yellowstone may consider changes to other derogatory or inappropriate names in the future,” it said.

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